UK eGuide Kindle
Car hire

Religious festivals

Thaipusam Festival
Where: Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
When: Last week January / first week February
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated by Hindu communities worldwide emphasizing faith, endurance, devotion and penance. People will carry heavy loads, pierce their skin and enter trances as they walk towards the Batu Caves, some 13km outside the city. When they arrive at the caves they release their burdens, perform rituals to the deity, say prayers and hope to return to their lives refreshed.

Where: Greece
When: Easter
Similar to Mardi Gras and Carnival, this tradition of celebrating before Lent takes place via special celebrations around the country. Highlights include the famous Goat dances of Skyros, the 40-day celebrations in Patras and in Athens people dress in costume and go to the Plaka on weekends to hit each other with plastic clubs and throw confetti. After the last weekend of Apokreas many Greeks begin fasting on Clean Monday and go to the countryside to fly kites.

I Misteri
Where: Trapani, Sicily
When: Easter
I Misteri is a procession of 18th Century wooden images representing the last days of Christ’s life. These were made from cypress wood and cork and each is associated with a town trade and representatives carry them through the streets on Good Friday. At other times of the year the life-sized statues are housed in the Chiesa di Purgatorio.

Settimana Santa
Where: Enna, Sicily, Italy
When: Easter
This Easter parade in central Sicily is one of the most interesting on the island. The parades of penitents marching in absolute silence is both eerie and moving. Every day one of the 15 local fraternities leaves from its church and marches to the main cathedral. The parades and events start on Palm Sunday and culminate on Easter Sunday.

Semana Santa
Where: South America
When: Easter
Holy week is celebrated throughout South America but the most famous celebrations are in Peru, Chile and Colombia. Here week long activities starting on Palm Sunday continue through to Easter Sunday. Every day there are rituals, street processions with participants on their knees or carrying crosses, prayer meetings and thousands of acts of homage.

Fiesta de San Juan Bautista (Feast of St John the Baptist)

Where: Venezuela
When: June 23-25
St John the Baptist is the patron saint to many on the central Caribbean coast. In Venezuela the feast day is celebrated with African drums and exuberant dancing.

Gion Matsuri
Where: Kyoto, Japan
When: July
This festival is one of Japan’s most famous festivals and spans the entire month of July. However the principal events occur from July 14-17. From July 14-16 parade floats are lined up on Shijo-dori and open to inspection. At night stalls sell traditional food and souvenirs such as paper fans and some private houses open to the public. Each has a specific meaning and sells a talisman. On the 17th the parade moves through the downtown area.

Esala Perahera
Where: Kandy, Sri Lanka
When: July or August
This Buddhist festival is one of Asia’s most colourful. It is held for 10 days and includes a procession of acrobats, banners, decorated elephants, dancers, musicians and barefoot pilgrims and swordsmen. The festival revolves around the Temple of the Tooth where Buddha’s tooth resides. On the final day of the festival the tooth is brought out in a gold carrying case.

Eid ul-Fitr
Where: Muslim world
When: September / October
Eid is a three day Muslim holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of fasting known as Ramadan.

Diwali (Festival of Lights)
Where: India and Nepal
When: October or November
This colourful festival is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists around the world but mostly on the Indian subcontinent. It is a five day festival during which lights or lamps are lit to signify the victory of good over the evil within every human being. Other celebrations include firecrackers, puja, elaborate meals and general good will.

Holi (Festival of Colours)
Where: India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh
When: Late February or early March
This popular Hindu spring festival is celebrated with colour. Everyone, including tourists, is drenched in coloured water and powders.

Día de los Muertos (Day of the dead)
Where: Mexico
When: November 1 and 2
In Mexico festivities and morbidity are linked and no one thinks much of the odd combination! This particular festival is for the reunion of dead relatives with their families. During the festival people go to decorate graves, burn incense, say prayers and chants for the dead and consume a lot of food and drink.

Kumbh Mela
Where: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik in India
When: Four times every 12 years
This mass Hindu pilgrimage rotates between the four locations, and the major event is a ritual dip in the holy rivers that in some years has exceeded participants numbering some 60 million people. Other activities include religious discussions and debates, singing and the feeding of holy men and women and the poor.

back to top